How can the media overcome this election boredom?

When Michael Buerk joined the podium at the Royal Television Society’s journalism awards last week, the editor next to me groaned enviously.

When Michael Buerk joined the podium at the Royal Television

Society’s journalism awards last week, the editor next to me groaned


Buerk was looking tanned and relaxed after a cannily-timed holiday. Most

(grey-faced) news executives spent that evening monitoring their mobile

phones, aware that the countdown to the Wirral South declaration and an

inevitable Labour victory was underway as they ate.

Spend time in the company of those responsible for covering the

forthcoming election and you instantly realise they are heartily sick of

the phoney war. Many have been on stand by for more than a year, praying

for a snap election, rather than this long haul.

One executive running a major national programme said his team was

trying to leaven the politics with more general stories, because they

know audiences are bored rigid. This week Conservative high command even

resorted to that tired ritual: thumping the BBC for alleged left-wing

bias. The Corporation swatted it away wearily like a troublesome fly,

but no wonder its brightest executives, as Mark Damazer, head of weekly

programmes revealed, are longing to start a post-election debate about

abandoning ’yah boo’ soundbites to search for a better way of covering

politics and policies.

All of this raises fundamental questions. It is an article of faith that

audiences will start paying attention once the real election starts, and

Labour’s vague policies come under heavy artillery. Titles, such as the

Independent, see 1 May as a big sales opportunity. But if a Labour win

is viewed by the vast majority as inevitable, then the sense of theatre

and drama has gone. What editors are waking up to is the fact that the

real story this time may begin after the election, if power changes

hands in a dramatic shift, something not seen for 18 years.

What is already evident is that this election is not conforming to


For example, the tabloid papers which caused Labour huge damage

throughout the 1980s and helped destroy Kinnock five years ago are far

less aggressive.

Blair’s charm campaign has worked. The Sun’s political editor, Trevor

Kavanagh, has even hinted that Murdoch, mindful of his media business

interests, may swing behind New Labour. This time the heavy use of

posters, advertising techniques and even direct mail will have to do the

dirty work for the Tories.

Meanwhile TV election plans, bound by impartiality codes remain

exhaustive but extremely conventional, with extended main news bulletins

and interviews with the three party leaders. This is why both the BBC

and ITV are praying for a televised debate along US presidential lines

between Blair and Major. It is about the only way to spice up coverage -

and get a mass audience - that they can drum up

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